Stay up to date with the latest OSINT news from around the world

This week in open-source intelligence (OSINT) news, publicly available data and the fast dissemination of information continues to change both how decision makers and the public interact with and understand war. Meanwhile, intelligence experts are once again calling on the United States to create an OSINT center to keep pace with its adversaries and protect national security interests. UNESCO is investing in local news outlets in four African countries to help them use publicly available information to identify environmental regulations abuses. 

The National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC) is sounding the alarm about OPSEC failures feeding the OSINT of adversaries. The CIA is planning to invest in the tradecraft of private sector OSINT practitioners. Elsewhere, UNESCO is investing in local news outlets in four African countries to help them identify environmental regulations abuses. 

This is the OSINT news of the week:

Moving at the speed of OSINT 

The ability to quickly disseminate information from war has changed the way the public and decision makers both experience combat. When two civilians in Poland were struck by a rocket, the world feared Russia had provoked a NATO country, creating a need to draw in many pledged nations in a catastrophic escalation. But open-source researchers quickly identified the debris as a misfired Ukrainian air defense weapon. The speed at which information can both travel and be confirmed or debunked has created both new opportunities for information-gathering and new challenges to meet the analysis needs of constant data.

As open-source data becomes more widely available for the taking, so too, do spies and traditional intelligence methods become more difficult to pull off in a digitized world. It’s harder to hide, and accidental data spillage, such as the mobile phone use of Russian military members, can lead to deadly outcomes. OSINT should no longer be regarded as a sidebar intelligence used to support traditional methods. The plethora of data demands a more concerted effort of applied analysis.

“Now the roles are reversing. Human, signals and geospatial intelligence help make sense of the mass of public data. In the run-up to the invasion last year open-source analysts saw Russia’s military build-up.”

— The Economist

Calls for an open-source intelligence center

The exponential growth of publicly and commercially available data has presented a crucial opportunity to the intelligence community to create a centralized operation around its open-source practices, according to a recent op-ed in The Hill. Smartphone and internet users number in the billions, while more and more commercial satellites go into orbit. The enormity of data available is far out-pacing the investment in harnessing it. Even with significant recent advances in AI collection tools, the rate of data growth is astronomically outpacing the efforts to collect and analyze it.

Despite the introduction of a bipartisan bill to create an Open Translation and Analysis Center and the State Department’s efforts in improving open-source coordination, the debate over the need for a dedicated OSINT center continues. In a connected, digital data-driven world, investment is needed to allow the U.S. maintain a national security edge.

“Their accomplishments include validating U.S. government claims about the Kremlin’s military build-up around Ukraine, exposing Beijing’s efforts to acquire foreign technology on a vast scale, uncovering the Chinese military’s investments in artificial intelligence, and identifying several Russian assassination and surveillance teams behind the attempts on the lives of Russian dissidents and defectors.”

— Rodney Faraon and Peter Mattis, The Hill

Reporters in Africa hold polluters accountable with open-source methods

UNESCO is training reporters in multiple African nations to utilize open-source data in order to hold companies to account for rampant pollution. The partnership with local media outlets is meant to empower their journalists on the ground to use technology in the monitoring, research and analysis of data when it comes to pollution and climate reporting. The teams will be able to use open-source skills to expose companies profiting from unsustainable practices and inform politicians of regulation abuses.

The program is being launched in the West African countries of Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon and Gabon, and training and tools utilized will include geolocating, wind and weather records, satellite imagery and vessel movements. The training will also include guidance on researching public records for identifying regulations, declarations and tax information.

“With many international and national companies involved in the exploitation of natural resources in Africa, it is paramount that the local media can hold these actors to account, keeping the public informed and ensuring compliance with environmental standards and commitments. Using science and technology to support African media in covering environmental issues, is at the heart of UNESCO’s mandate.”

— Tawfik Jelassi, Unesco

Poor OPSEC feeds adversary OSINT

As U.S. adversaries invest more heavily in OSINT, practicing good operational security (OPSEC) is crucial in protecting national security information. Carelessness is a prime target for U.S. adversaries to elicit or manipulate vulnerable people into divulging critical information. If an adversary can identify and contact a government agent or military member by phone, email or messaging app, there is an opportunity to exploit individuals.

Poor OPSEC adoption could be feeding into adversary OSINT collection. Lackluster OPSEC works both ways, as Russia has learned through deadly losses on the Ukraine battlefield. But those casualties carry an important lesson for the U.S. to avoid.

“Indeed, it goes well beyond a suggestion, it is mandated, “NSPM-28 requires all Executive Branch departments and agencies to implement OPSEC capabilities that identify and protect their most critical assets, identify and mitigate vulnerabilities, consider foreign adversarial threats in their organization’s risk management activities, and apply sufficient threat mitigation practices to counter the threat.”

— Christopher Burgess, Clearance Jobs

CIA shares commitment to helping extend OSINT capabilities in partners

The deputy director of the CIA for Digital Innovation, Jennifer Ewbank, shared the agency’s commitment to investing in the OSINT capabilities of their government partners. The increased digitization and democratization of information has shown the IC the possibilities of better OSINT tradecraft. The CIA’s Open Source Enterprise (OSE) wants to further its partners' expertise by partnering with private sector colleagues.

Through this partnership, the CIA will help train private sector OSINT departments on advanced digital technologies, artificial intelligence and machine learning, open-source collection methods and analysis.

“To fulfill these commitments, OSE chairs IC committees, serving as a steadfast champion of efforts to advanced OSINT technology, tradecraft, training, data sharing, and production with wide representation from over 28 US government entities.”

— Jennifer Ewbank, Rebellion Research

Every other week, we collect OSINT news from around the world. We continue to keep a close watch on Russia's war in Ukraine, especially on Twitter. We’re also gathering information on cyberthreats, federal intelligence strategies and much more. Find us on Twitter and share the OSINT news you’re keeping up with.

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